On a trip to London at the end of the summer of 2015, I saw a V & A exhibition titled "What is luxury" that embraced everything I always thought about the word. The fact is that the word "luxury", similar to the word "love", is one of the most used, misguided and abused words in English-speaking vocabulary. In the material world we live in, high profile fashion designer labels who manufacture and market expensive goods under various licenses have fully understood and experimented the concept of luxury to fit their commercial goals. In strong contrast, the report described it as "The dominance of a boat and the outstanding know-how (proven) by extreme precision, attention to detail and remarkable finishes."
What better to suggest this idea than my recent visit to S.A. Baxter where the great material was designed and built as if it were in a medieval workshop. S.A. Baxter was founded by businessman Scott Baxter in 2006 as an antidote to the lack of aesthetically suited architectural material that was available at the time he built his own home. A Bachelor of Sciences degree in Information Systems Management proved its worth when it started to found its foundry in the small village of Chester, in the state of New York. My visit to the Baxter foundry turned out to be very insightful, as I gained tremendous understanding of the very specialized processes that involved producing a door or lever.
Unlike most door equipment companies that have readily available inventories, everything in Baxter is done in the classroom and a customer can choose a particular design from the extensive array of designs that cover different periods and styles. The most exciting thing about working with S.A. Baxter is that designers can design and customize the material for a particular project. All Baxter materials are made in copper using a technique called "lost wax casting", which is an ancient, very specialized (and somewhat dangerous) multi-step process.
It starts with a sketch. Once the concept is further defined, a 3D computer model is produced and a mold is produced. The wet wax is poured into a mold, when cured, it is placed in a "tree" of cooling. A mixture of concrete and sand called "slurry" takes the form of a wax, then is placed in an oven to melt the wax by creating a "negative" shape or shell. After the shell has cooled down, liquid metal is poured at 2000 degrees F. After about 10 hours of defrosting, the shell breaks with a vibrating chisel. After the final stage of chipping the outer core, the cast bronze is ready to undergo a handmade finish, including fine details, polishing and optional coating followed by epilation to avoid further aging.
What impressed me more as a designer was both the delicacy and the quality of the finishes – of which there are 28 choices. My absolute favorite is "melted nickel" which for me is steadily versatile as it has just the right amount of warmth and patina.
Since 2016, S.A. Baxter is organizing a showroom in London, so I am pleased to advise my colleagues on the other side of the lake to consider engaging them in special projects!
Catherine Weinstock, head of CW DESIGN, New York